Happy Holidays From PPC Without Pity

Howdy there, loyal readers. No new post today since I’m taking the next few days off for Christmas. But, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy holiday. No matter which one you choose to celebrate, I hope it’s a great one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Looking Back On PPC Versus SEO In 2012

The PPC vs. SEO debate is something that has been raging since you could start paying for placement on search results. And with search engine algorithms and paid search platforms each becoming more complex with each passing year, it’s no surprise that we’re still talking about this problem. In this post, I won’t get in to which one is superior, but I do want to talk about where I see these two marketing methods evolving in the near future.

On a personal level, I’ve had more exposure to the interrelationship between PPC and SEO in this year of my career than in any other. For most of my career I’ve been solely focused on PPC, but as the online marketing manager for BuildASign.com, I’m responsible for both sides of the search equation. And this year, it seems like there has been more turbulence in the space than ever.

Over the past two years, it’s obvious that the search engines (and Google in particular) have been pushing SEO to the wayside. They won’t go so far as to ban SEO outright – that would be ridiculous and stupid. But it’s clear that Google wants SEOs to play by their strict rules. First, it was the Panda update, which neutralized poor content. Then, they removed organic search query data from users who were signed in. Then Penguin update rounded out the trifecta of whammies that Google let out to eliminate gimmicky SEO.

Of these three changes, I think Panda and Penguin were reasonable responses to overly manipulative SEO. But I’m still kind of mad about the organic search query data. They claim that they rolled out this change to protect user privacy. But if you pay for traffic via AdWords, guess what – you get all the same data for free! Google is apparently not so protective of its users if someone else is paying for the data. Search query data is essential on both sides of organic and paid search. This data allows webmasters and advertisers to craft a better experience for their visitors by understanding exactly what it is they are looking for. Removing this data from the organic side indicates that Google is showing a strong preference for paid search over organic. Understandably so, since they make money on every click.

This year, there was another cash grab by Google that made their preference for paid even more apparent. When Google Shopping ended their years-long policy of free traffic in favor of a PPC format, I knew something was up. This shift to paid traffic priced out a lot of small retailers from the platform, as well as some much larger ones like Apple and Amazon. If you’re a small-time retailer who can’t afford the traffic, it sucks to be you. But if you can pay, then you’re still allowed to play Google’s game.

I don’t want to come down too hard on Google. They’re a business after all, and they’re in this to make money, not drive free, profitable traffic to every website out there. But these changes clearly signal a shift in the economics of search. I once thought that PPC and SEO would live comfortably side-by-side forever. But now I’m not so sure. I expect that in 2013 we’ll see further shifts in favor of paid search, and SEO will continue to be marginalized. I don’t think it will die outright, but I’m sure that the days of free, unlimited traffic are over. If you heavily rely on SEO for your site traffic, I would strongly encourage you to work on your PPC proficiency. You might need those skills sooner than you think.

Posted in Bing, Google AdWords, Keywords, Product Listing Ads, Search Engines, SEO | Comments Off

When To Pause A Keyword

PPC keywords – they can’t all be zingers. Every seasoned PPC pro has had the experience of entering in hundreds (or thousands) of keywords that they thought were relevant, sure-to-convert winners, only to find that some of those keywords turn out to be money-hemorrhaging duds. Some times it’s pretty clear that a keyword wasn’t as relevant as you thought it was, and deserves a pause. But sometimes you see some keywords with performance just on the line between profit and loss. How can you decide whether to cut your losses on these keywords, or try to fix the situation?

Before you make the call to pause a keyword, you need to make sure you have enough data. You can base this either on time or on traffic. If you base your analysis on time, consider how long the keyword has been consistently running. New keywords, ad groups, and campaigns need to go through an approval process behind the scenes. Sometimes it can take up to a week for a new campaign element to start getting all the impression share it is eligible for. Before you judge brand new keywords, it’s best to have 2-4 weeks of stats to look at before you make the call. Also, if your keyword is related to a highly seasonal product (i.e. Christmas gifts or flowers), then you probably shouldn’t base a keyword’s performance solely on off-season stats. For example, if you are trying to judge the all-time profitability of your Valentine’s Day keywords, you probably shouldn’t be looking at August’s stats. To eliminate seasonality bias in your analysis, look at a 12-month window of keyword performance. If a keyword is driving a lot of traffic but hasn’t converted once all year, that’s a pretty good indicator that it should be paused.

But, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of doing a long-term analysis. Sometimes you gotta go on traffic. When I look at keyword viability based on traffic, I think about what my absolute rock-bottom break-even conversion rate is. One percent is a pretty good rule of thumb. If you’re converting at 1%, you’re still doing pretty crappy but you might be able to do better eventually. If your goal is a 1% conversion rate, you would need to get at least 100 clicks to know if you would be able to meet that goal. If your goal is 2% conversion, you would need at least 50 clicks, and so on and so forth. If you pause a keyword before it meets that traffic threshold, you might be pausing a keyword that will be successful in the future, but just got a bad break from the outset.

You also need to consider if the keyword’s position is a factor in poor performance. If you start a keyword with a low bid and it shows at the bottom of or off the first page of search engine results, it’s probably going to do poorly due to lack of visibility. As an experiment, you should boost the keyword’s bid to a higher position (say, position 3-4), to see if it starts converting. If you boost the bid and the keyword still sucks, it’s probably a good indicator that the keyword deserves to be paused.

With some proper keyword pruning, you can make an unprofitable account into a moneymaker in just a matter of minutes. But, if you get too aggressive with your pauses, you could hurt your future performance. Use these tips when pausing your keywords, and you’ll be sure to eliminate the losers while preserving the winners.

Posted in Keyword Bids, Keywords, PPC Basics | Comments Off

Building Long-Tail PPC Ad Groups

You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about traffic on the “long tail.” For the uninitiated, this is merely a description of the traffic that occurs on a wide variety of uncommonly used keywords. Think of obscure queries like “find a ppc freelancer in austin texas.” These kinds of queries are likely to only be used by someone once or twice a year (and perhaps never again). But taken in the aggregate, queries like this compose the bulk of web search traffic.

The long tail can be a valuable thing for PPC practitioners to target, but building out lists of thousands of obscure keywords isn’t exactly an easy task. For this reason, many folks just don’t bother with targeting the long tail. Fortunately, there is a simple trick that can really speed up the creation of long-tail ad groups.

That simple trick is the magic of concatenation. Concatenation takes elements from different keyword “buckets,” and combines them in different orders to create a longer search query. For example, if you concatenate the phrases “freelance,” “ppc” and “austin,” you could generate the phrases “freelance ppc austin,” “austin freelance ppc,” and “ppc freelance austin.”

You can do concatenation in Excel via the Concatenate function. Just enter the keywords you want to combine in different cells, then create a =CONCATENATE formula in a new cell to combine the keywords. With a little creativity, you can create a spreadsheet that will generate all sorts of combinations.

Alternately, you could use this handy PPC concatenation tool put together by the good folks at Found. They’ve already done all the hard formula-making for you, so all you have to do is add in the elements of the long-tail keyword phrases you want to target, select which permutations you want to make, then cut and paste the output into a new ad group in your PPC bulk editor of choice. I just used this tool last week to create a couple dozen long tail ad groups for our t-shirt site Dress United, and I was really pleased with how well it worked.

Once you have the keywords built out, don’t forget about your ads. You’ll want to have a headline or description line that specifically mentions your long-tail target in order to really get that searcher’s attention. As long as you’re using phrase or exact match, you can do dynamic keyword insertion ads. Try a headline that dynamically inserts the user’s long-tail keyword (if it will fit) and you won’t have to worry about manually choosing a relevant keyword. You can find out more about dynamic keyword insertion in AdWords here, and on Bing Ads here.

The beauty of long-tail ad group creation is that you don’t need to look up individual keyword search volume or competition before you create the ad groups. You’re going to have lots of hits and misses, so it’s best to just cover all the possible permutations of a relevant keyword phrase to make sure that you’re covering every possible search query for that subject. The great thing about long-tail keywords is that even though they individually don’t get much traffic, they are very likely to convert due to the specificity of the query. If someone types in “buy custom marching band tee shirts” and you have an ad pop up saying that sell custom marching band tee shirts, you’re much more likely to close that sale instead of someone who is relying on broader queries and more generic ad text. Sure, you’ll probably only get one click a year, but if that click costs you pennies due to the lack of competition on that specific keyword, and it leads to one conversion (100% conversion rate!), that’s going to do some really nice things to your cost per conversion.

But, long-tail only works if you do a lot of it. “A lot” as in “thousands of keywords.” Use concatenation tools to speed up the creation process, and you’ll be one step ahead of your lazy competition.

Posted in Bing, Google AdWords, Keywords, PPC Tools, Search Engines, Text Ads | Comments Off

Bidding Strategies For The Holiday Season

Well folks, it’s that time of the year again. Time for those of us in B2C industries to focus on the influx of holiday consumer spending, and time for those of us in less consumer-focused industries to ride the seasonal slowdown. This post is for the B2C holiday rush folks. Let’s talk about what’s going on with your keyword bids right now.

For most of the year, you probably have a set keyword bidding strategy. Maybe you’re going toward a profitable CPA. Maybe it’s lifetime value you’re after. Or perhaps you’re just trying to dominate the traffic in your space. All those are just fine for about 11 months out of the year. But if you sell any kind of product that gets a lot of sales around the holidays, the usual bid rules go out the window.

Since consumers are more likely to make a purchase this time of year, your conversion rate is probably going to go up. This means that your conversion rate might increase – doubling or tripling the normal rate is not unheard of. Most of us take this boost for granted, and just ride the seasonal wave. But what if I told you that you could do some simple changes to increase your holiday results even more?

That’s right, friends. Even greater holiday growth is within your grasp. You see, if your conversion rate is going up and your traffic cost is remaining constant, that means that your CPA will go down. You can either take that lowered CPA and the modest growth it offers, or pump those profits back into your PPC spend. With a better conversion rate, you can afford some more expensive traffic and still keep those CPAs where they were all year.

But, you can’t just pump up those bids without any strategy. Take a look at your value per click (revenue divided by # of clicks) each bid adjustment period, and only increase bids on profitable keywords. Look at the spread between the value delivered per click and what you actually paid per click. If you’re making a healthy profit, you can afford a higher bid and additional traffic. There will be a certain point where a CPC bid is not viable, but you might be surprised by a few keywords that don’t make much of a profit during the rest of the year, but that become big winners in the holiday season.

An added bonus to this strategy is that not only will you (hopefully) increase your revenue over the holiday, but that additional traffic due to higher bids will result in a larger number of individual customers. You can then re-market to those new customers via your email marketing or social media campaigns. Revenue doesn’t end with PPC! Cultivate the relationship you have with your customers and they will continue to give you money after that first transaction.

If you want to roll this out, there’s no time to waste! Get started on analyzing your keywords today, and check back on your increased bids once a week until you reach your Christmas shipping deadlines.

Posted in Keyword Bids | Comments Off